The Hunt for the Imam’s Army

March 27, 2011

Here in Turkey, we’re consumed by the hunt for the forbidden manuscripts of The Imam’s Army. The police have arrested the author, Ahmet ??k, on suspicion of membership in the Ergenekon conspiracy, and they’re hunting down every copy of the draft of his book.

What’s in that book? Who knows? Supposedly it blows the lid on Fethullah Gülen’s control of the Turkish police, or supposedly it contains the organizational blueprint for overthrowing Turkey’s democratically-elected government. I stress supposedly: I haven’t read it, and Turkey is conspiracy-theory central.

The effort to silence ??k is inherently doomed. Here’s a site that claims to have the manuscript–and to be counting down to releasing it. Do they really have it? No idea. But there’s probably nothing the authorities could have done to publicize this book–or any crackpot claiming to have this book–better than to pitch up at the offices of a large newspaper to wipe the draft off someone’s computer. These developments have enraged quite some number of journalists, even ones who until this point had been quite friendly to the government.

The growth of this Facebook group is interesting: Ahmet ??k’?n Kitab? Bende de Var, which means, “I’ve got Ahmet ??k’s book too.” About 500 people are joining every hour; right now it has 54,125 members. This is striking in a country not characterized by “political self-organization.” To give you a sense of numbers, this AKP Facebook page has 38,753 members and has been around, I think, for years.

I don’t think you can or should draw firm conclusions from the size of a Facebook page, but “rapidly growing groups” do offer hints, not only about public sentiment, but about who is trying to influence it and the influence they’re trying to have. This brings me to the depressing part. Among others, the organizers of the group are the Yay?n Kolektifi. The photos on their website won’t fill you with hope: They are all communists–the old-fashioned kind.

Now, does this mean the 54,125 people who have thus far added their names to that list are communists? Of course not. Is there widespread support for communism in Turkey? Not at all. The TKP–the communist party–took 0.22 percent of the vote in the last general election, which can pretty much be chalked up to a sampling error. There are about a dozen other miniscule communist parties, so small that the social sense of the word “party” is more apt to describe them than the political one. This is not at all to say that there has never been a serious communist movement in Turkey; to understand anything about modern Turkey, you have to appreciate that it was a key Cold War playing field. But the country is not now laboring under the Red Menace.
All the same, the comparative political energy of organizers who are keen to advance the thought of Marx and Lenin is an ominous sign about the state of Turkish civil society. I’m sure some will say, “It’s just a bit of salon Marxism, nothing to worry about.” Even if that’s true–which I doubt–it’s a sign of deep political immaturity. I mean, come on. We all know full well that wherever the posters of Marx and Lenin have gone up, the word Samizdat has not been far behind.

I say “we all know,” but most young people in Turkey, or at least the ones I’ve spoken to, have no idea. How would they? If so few in the West really know or care what communism meant–and the literature is widely available to consult, in English–how would people who only read Turkish grasp this? From Bukovsky’s archives: December 1970 report by KGB regarding “alarming political tendencies”in Samizdat and Preventive measures. Not translated, as far as I know, into English. Certainly not translated into Turkish.

In an advanced democracy, you can buy all the copies of Ahmet ??k’s book you like, as well as all the books by Marx and Lenin, and you can keep them and read them and talk about them without fear. But this isn’t an advanced democracy, it’s a fragile, new democracy; and the Leftists and the Islamists occupy a political space much greater than their real numbers. This is not a symptom of Red-Green alliance–they hate each other. But it’s a symptom of something, and it’s not robust political health.

So where are the normal people who are outraged by this? They’re not starting Facebook groups. Not like this one, anyway, not yet. They’re not taking to the streets in large numbers. I very much doubt it’s because they’re thrilled about having a government that seizes books. It’s because they don’t want trouble, the whole thing scares them, and they think there’s no point in protesting–that’s something only crazy Americans and communists do. They figure they don’t know what’s really going on. They think everything in Turkey’s a complicated, opaque game controlled by someone else and nothing’s what it seems. (This is not an entirely crazy conclusion to draw in a country whose fate has been determined by real conspiracy after real conspiracy.) Besides, they have jobs and they have families, so they don’t have the time. There’s a Turkish proverb that’s relevant here: Bana dokunmayan y?lan bin ya?as?n–let the snake that doesn’t bite me live a thousand years. (If you want to explain all of Turkish foreign policy in two proverbs, by the way, go with that one and Türk’ün Türk’ten ba?ka dostu yoktur: A Turk has no friend but a Turk.)

Turkey is in fact a democracy–a new, struggling one, not an advanced one–so normal people actually have much more power than they realize. Certainly, no other group has more power in Turkey than voters–not the AKP, not Gülen, not the United States, not Soros, not the Jews, not the communists, not international capital, not the military. But I suspect this realization would be as terrifying to many people here as it is liberating. They would feel, if this really dawned on them, the way little kids feel when their parents lose them in the supermarket.

On the bright side, 54,125 people joined that group in the space of about 48 hours. They’re definitely not all communists.

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